J Is For Juniper

J is nothing if not resourceful. She was rather envious when, as regular readers might recall, I was able to slash my booze bill by about 80% by mixing my own rakı. I know she was envious because I saw the green flashes of Sauron behind her beautiful grey eyes!

Anyway, not to be outdone she began her research into the quaintly named ‘botanicals’ that give various gins their unique flavours. Her position was that if all it took was some aniseed essence to flavour my rakı then a similar principle should apply to ‘making’ gin. She was not wrong.

This being Turkey with its amazingly varied climate and geography sourcing the herbs and/or spices she’d need would be easy.  She collected juniper berries which are essential, coriander seeds and prepared some candied orange and lemon peel – candied to supply a little sugar.

juniper in the wild 

and fit for purpose

coriander seeds – you may wish to crack them to better release the flavour

citrus peel steeped in sugar water and awaiting  oven drying

Once these ingredients were ready she half-inched one of my bottles of ethanol. She then steeped the ‘botanicals’ in boiling water for 24 hours before making the quantity up to the same ratio I use for rakı (1.25:1), by adding the ethyl alcohol. The whole is then left to develop for a number of days. J advocates testing every few hours by sniffing and tasting (of course) until you have the intensity you desire. Then she drained the liquid through a sieve to remove the debris and bottled the resulting spirit.

I have to tell you her stuff is the business! She keeps it in a fancy gin bottle to impress any visitors unlike my rakı which is chugged out of what amounts to a milk bottle!

not Hendrick’s but the ‘Real McKöy’  (bit of an ‘in’ joke – sorry)

Truth to tell, using the ethyl alcohol which is freely available here in Turkey you can have all sorts of fun experimenting with different ‘botanicals’. Pretty much anything goes so why not give it a go. Here’s a chart that will help you choose the flavour you seek.

You can check out the kit and process I use for rakı here

Happy Daze, A&J

Life’s Like That!

Some days are good – and some are not so good! Last week we had a day that was not so good and it began at the hospital where we both had an appointment for eye tests. Now, we are paid up contributors to the state health-care system so when we booked in we had no thoughts of any glitches.

They breezed through doing the admin on J and then it was my turn – we both paled as we heard the dreaded word ‘Borç’! The system was throwing up that I had a debt, some unpaid contribution. We knew we had no debt and we had receipts going back four years to prove it but they were at home and you can’t argue with a computer. There was much huffing and puffing and attempts by staff to sort the matter over the phone – brick-wall!

So, before heading home for the receipts we decided to go to our bank and cash one of those Moneygram things that a friend in the UK had sent. Everything went swimmingly until I handed over my id card – Oh, dear! The Moneygram was addressed to Alan Fenn and my id said Alan Richard Fenn. There was no way we could possibly be the same person unless the sender changed the bloody thing to my full name! Another thing to do back home.

The second item on the agenda at the bank was to arrange for four insurance policies to all be paid in one hit as opposed to instalments which the bank was insisting could only be paid from a separate account in my name. Now I won’t bore you with details apart from saying that everything from homes to cars to bank accounts to you-name-it is in our joint names so why do we need another account in my name and why won’t they just take all the premiums in one go?  – these things can be utterly incomprehensible! Eventually the bank agreed – reluctantly -that they would let us pay in one hit. Before you mark that up as a win, just hold your horses.

I try to keep this image in mind when times are trying

We sighed, took several deep breaths and headed home. The Moneygram thing was sorted in minutes (may the gods bless social media and those who are always on it). We gathered up our receipts and headed back to town and the local social security offices. ‘Hallelujah!’ They were waiting for us and had already sorted the glitch and everything was in order. The sun had just come out on our day!

At the bank the Moneygram thing went well until the clerk said to me, eyes downcast, that the sender’s name I’d filled in was wrong. ‘It’s not Mister Frank’ he whispered. As my blood pressure surged to 160/90 and I snarled ‘Jean?’ he rapidly began redacting/editing the form muttering ‘Yes, Mister Jean!’ A few minutes later we had the cash.

Now, as we were in town, it was back to hospital to see if the eye doctor could fit us both in – she could. In no time we had our new prescriptions but were too knackered to do any more than head home and get the coffee pot on. We had had enough for one day.

Over coffee and a comfort bun I perused my prescription – it didn’t look complete so I dug out an old one and sure enough I appeared to have enjoyed a near miraculous improvement in my vision including self-correcting astigmatisms! Next morning it was back to the eye doctor and a retest that reversed the earlier miracle!

We allowed a couple of days to pass before returning to town to see the optician and the bank. The optician was a treat to deal with as we sailed smoothly through the process of lens and frame selection. The 30% discounts (which we know are a sales gimmick) made us even more mellow. Then it was to the bank and again it all went swimmingly. The ‘one-payment option’ was no problem we were assured. J asserted her right as joint account holder to sign whatever needed to be signed. I remember smiling behind my hand as the bank asserted its right to do things its own way and page after monthly page spewed out of the printer. They would take the money in one instalment but only after she had signed for each individual monthly payment! Sometimes life is like that!

A&J cocooned in isolation up in the mountains where life is simple and uncomplicated – mostly!

Worms From The Back Of Beyond

On our way back up here to our hidey-hole in the mountains J and I took a detour to meet up with our dear friend and brother ‘Deli’ Ahmet. Long-time readers will remember Ahmet as the blue-sky thinking collaborator with me on Gülay’s exercise machine. Well, Ahmet has a new project that he was keen to show us and that required a trip to the back-of-beyond in the mountains of Aydin Province.

my mate Ahmet thinking in the sky again

Winding through narrow village lanes we climbed and climbed often needing to use 1st gear! Eventually we crested a rise and there below us lay a small village. Our reactions were a mixture of wonder at the beauty and sadness at the obvious dereliction and decay. Here was a village in the process of dying.

sunlight on the local stone houses

a view to the grandchildren

Once upon a time the village thrived by harvesting olives and pine nuts. Today only the old folks remain whilst the younger generations have moved away to the towns and the work that can be found there. There are, perhaps, less than twenty residents left in the community. Houses that were once built from the local stone lie roofless and windowless as they slowly moulder away.

The survival of this beautiful, peaceful place lies in outsiders who recognise what a true gem it is and choose to move here and begin a process of revival. There are signs that this is happening with one couple, she a ceramic artist and he is a man after my own heart who distils fine rakı and whisky deciding to enhance their lives and settle! Then there is Ahmet who has a vision of restoring several houses and making them available for walkers/cyclists/lovers of peace and quiet. As you can see above he will have his work cut out to achieve his dream.

Loving bulbous plants as I do it was a treat to find cyclamen and Sternbergia lutea growing all over the place.

Remnants from a once thriving past are to be found everywhere.

olive crusher

What, you may wonder, has this got to do with worms? Well, it turned out that the lady ceramic artist also cultivated worms for composting and, having extolled the virtues of these amazing creatures to J, insisted that she have a couple of kilos to get her going on her very own worm composting venture. Here’s J getting started with a bucket of worms and in the next couple of days (weather permitting) I’ll set about building the interlocking wooden boxes that will become their permanent home.

Life is never dull! Alan@the wormery!

‘ands, Knees And Bumps-a-Daisy

Regular readers will know that the only fly in my otherwise idyllic ointment of life is . . . decrepitude! Bits, usually with bones attached, keep wearing out, seizing up or generally failing to be fit for purpose. I last moaned about it a few months ago – if you can be bothered here’s a link.

Anyway, having got my right knee sorted after months of treatment J and I were looking forward to traipsing hand in hand through the flowers of many a mountain meadow.

the dream

. . was short-lived! Within days the Happy Wanderer was feeling like an instant train wreck.

A period of self-doctoring à la must-be-the-same-as-the-other-knee proved to be time well wasted! So, it was bite the bullet and let the real doctors do their job. Various scans showed that the joint was a right mess and an operation to clean out, scour, polish and generally tidy up the site was advised. Apart from the fact that the national holiday got in the way it was, as is usual here in Turkey, a next day job!

Following the whole procedure on a tv monitor is part of the fun – like taking a virtual boat trip through some weird, underground labyrinth full of stalagmites and stalactites. All it needed to complete the illusion was coloured lights!

So, where are we now? Pain has gone and I sleep at nights which means I’m not as much of a grumpy old bastard as I used to be. We are back up at the cabin, I’m mobile after a fashion and it’s only a matter of time before those mountain meadows will once again be in range. I’m happy and it only leaves me to thank the skill of the medical staff and the efficiency of the health service here in Turkey.

Alan – life, ain’t it great!

Several Birds . .

J and I have travelled much of Turkey in the twenty-odd years we’ve lived here but we’ve never made it across the Hellespont or Dardanelles  as it is known these days. European Turkey remained a place unexplored to us.

one of the most strategic waterways in the world

Our Turkish ‘son’ was recently appointed to an important post near the Greek border and so, as we hadn’t seen him and his family for a few months, we needed no further encouragement than an invitation to a local rice festival. The area is one huge paddy field and supplies much of Turkey’s domestic rice needs.

2 kilo bags of ‘Festival Rice’ proved to be welcome gifts

Now, we had other friends whom we had not seen for a while who were holidaying near Ayvalık so what better than to combine a visit with them! They were delighted and promptly suggested that we all traipse off to Bozcaada (a small island just off the coast) for a couple of days.

Bozcaada is very pretty, very popular, the resort of choice for the ‘beautiful people’ from İstanbul and very expensive! Let me give you a couple of examples; what amounted to no more than a decent lokanta meal for four, admittedly with 3/4 of a bottle of rakı thrown in, was over 400 Lira! A double rakı weighs in at 40 Lira – although they do ‘give away’ a small bowl of nuts when you sit down! Now, if like me you enjoy your daily dose of duble rakı then forking out the price of a bottle for a couple of doubles rather takes the shine off.

Meanwhile, a few impressions:

the most splendid of friends

As I said, it’s a most beautiful place and with friends such as ours there is nothing more to add!

Bozcaada behind us we motored on and crossed the Dardanelles at Çanakkale, the narrowest part. It’s a busy place . .

Our ‘son’ was working much of the time so as is usual on these occasions we amuse ourselves most days and fit in the socialising when we can. The highlight was joining him on a trip to Edirne where I was able to fulfil a long-time desire to visit the Selimiye Imperial Ottoman Mosque. Said to be the finest masterpiece of one of the greatest architects to have ever lived – the Mimar Sinan – it was commissioned by the Sultan Selim II and built between 1569-1575. It is a remarkable sight to behold!



the massive main door – these pieces fit together like a jig-saw – no glue or nails

Look carefully at the image below and you might just make out a relief carving of an upside down tulip. There is a story; the woman who owned the land where the mosque now stands repeatedly refused to give it away for the greater glory of God or Sultan! She used it to grow tulips on the site which you may recall were worth more than gold back in those far-off days. Anyway, she was adamant until eventually she was assured that there would be tulips inside the mosque and so she agreed with that as guarantee. She should have known better than to trust the elites because all she ended up with was this one ‘dead’ tulip! If you go back four photos you can see someone pointing out the location.

There is a small but very interesting museum attached to the mosque with lots of amazing examples of Ottoman craftsmanship. It also has a disturbingly realistic figure of the great architect Sinan – J freaked out!

Koca Mi’mâr Sinân Âğâ – Mimar Sinan 1488/90 – 1588

Now, Edirne is famous for something else – liver! Whenever a Turk, friend or stranger, heard we were off to Edirne we were told that we simply had to eat the famous Edirne Tava Ciğer! So we did and they were right, sliced thinly before frying it is delicious!

Edirne Tava Ciğer

We did a number of other things and went to a few other places but this is enough for now apart from one other thing. On the way back we stopped briefly at Ezine a town famous in Turkey for its cheeses. There we bought Ezine Göbekli Kaşar Peynir (cheese with holes) which is OK if not special. (J and I are in dispute over Ezine or Kaşan – whatever!) The prize, however, goes to Peynir Helvası a not too sweet cheeeezy-as-anything pudding – wonderfully delicious!

Peynir Helvası

If you plan to ‘go’ this is the way to do it!

Alan, having got several ‘birds’ with one stone, back at the cabin with J making chutney and pickled cabbage!